Frontcourts are the backbone of every successful NBA team. No team has won a championship without a dominant frontcourt since Jordan‘s Bulls, and Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen could certainly play a little bit. The point guard craze has taken over the NBA, but when is that last time a team led by a point guard won the championship? You could argue Chauncey Billups with the Pistons in 2004, but other than that you have to go all the way back to Isaiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons in 1990.
Big men have ruled the NBA for years. By no coincidence, every team on this list, other than Utah, should find themselves in the playoffs this coming season. Guard play may be more flashy, but strength in the frontcourt wins championships.
On this list, there are several teams who are bringing back the same group for another run, but plenty others that have young guys stepping into new roles and still more that made big acquisitions trying to fill holes. Some teams feature bigger guys who can stretch the floor while others feature bangers who will crush you on the boards â€“ but the best feature a little of everything.
Here are the 15 best frontcourt rotations in the NBA.
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15. UTAH JAZZ
The Jazz have one of the most intriguing front lines in all of basketball. The oldest of this starting trio is Gordon Hayward — who also plays a lot of two-guard — who just turned 23 earlier this year. Hayward made great strides in his third year in the league, posting a career-high in points per game at 14.1 while shooting a robust 41.5 percent from three. Some doubted Hayward’s athleticism coming out of Butler and wondered if he could defend, or even score, in the pros. Those questions have been put to rest after three solid years and Hayward should only continue to improve as he gets older.
Now for the young guns. Derrick Favors was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 Draft after one year at Georgia Tech with all the physical tools necessary to be a stud power forward in the league â€“ he stands at 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan and a 35-inch running vert. Only 56 games into his rookie season, Favors was shipped to Utah as part of the package for Deron Williams (that package also included a future first-round pick that ended up being Favors’ current frontcourt mate, Enes Kanter). Being the centerpiece for a player like Williams brings a lot of expectations, and Favors is slowly but surely filling them. He has steadily improved year by year and has put up solid numbers in the opportunities he has gotten â€“ his per 36-minute numbers last year graded out to 14.6 points and 11 rebounds a contest. With both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap out of the equation, Favors has the opportunity to make those prorated numbers a reality. This will be Favors’ fourth year in the league, and it is time for him to show how great a player he can be.
Last but not least on this front line in Utah is Enes Kanter. Kanter has not played many minutes as of yet but has shined when he has been out there. His per 36-minute numbers are even better than Favors at almost 17 points and over 10 boards per. He also shoots a great percentage, finishing at a nifty 54.5 percent last season. The Jazz don’t have much frontcourt help off the bench â€“ unless you include Andris Biedrins â€“ so it’s safe to say the Jazz don’t have much frontcourt help off the bench. Utah has a very young team moving forward so will most likely (and probably want to) struggle this upcoming season. There will be growing pains, but these young bigs have a lot of talent. This ranking is admittedly based a lot on potential, but these two have a great chance to form a dynamic duo that will punish the boards on both ends and dominate on the blocks. If Hayward keeps improving — and we suspect he’ll be employed as a small-ball three often this year — this could be one of the best frontcourts in the whole league very soon.
14. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The Timberwolves have looked to be one of the most promising young teams in the league heading into each of the last few seasons. Unfortunately, injuries have decimated the roster and Minnesota has remained in the lottery. Kevin Love only played 18 games after breaking his hand twice this past season and Nikola Pekovic missed 20 games of his own (not to mention the injury woes Ricky Rubio is always dealing with).
Heading into this season, everyone looks to be healthy and the T-Wolves are ready to make a run. Rubio runs the show but this team’s success depends on the frontcourt. The power forward and center positions are set in stone, but the small forward position is wide open â€“ and there are plenty of options. Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, Corey Brewer, and even first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad could all lay claim to the starting position next to Love and Pekovic.
In his first year in Minnesota after three years in Houston, Budinger impressed with his ability to stretch the floor before he suffered his own injury after only 23 games. Williams has been decent thus far in his career but has not played at the level a No. 2 overall pick should as of yet. He averaged 12 a game last season but on low percentages from both the floor (43 percent) and from three (33.2 percent), considering the crazy numbers he put up in college (almost 57 percent from range). Williams has all the tools to be a beast in this league and will be a big x-factor for Minnesota this upcoming season.
Brewer is back in Minnesota after a three-year hiatus and provides the Wolves with a much-needed wing defender. Muhammad is an unknown entity coming in as a rookie â€“ he was hyped up coming out of high school but disappointed at UCLA. He certainly has plenty of upside and perhaps his game is more suited to the NBA style and he can surprise out of the gate (alas, the same was said for Austin Rivers).
Regardless of what happens at the three-spot, there are no questions about who will fill the power forward and center positions. Kevin Love had an injury-riddled campaign last year, but the year before he put up insane numbers â€“ 26 points a game to go along with 13.3 rebounds. In addition, he took five threes a game and hit at 37.2 percent. Love is eager to prove he can get back to the level he played in 2011-12 and carry the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since the KG era.
The Timberwolves center more or less came out of nowhere. Pekovic was drafted with the first pick of the second round in the 2008 Draft but didn’t come to the NBA until the 2010-11 season. In his first year he had very pedestrian numbers, but in the last two he has been a monster. Pekovic averaged 16.3 points per contest this past season on 52 percent shooting plus 8.8 rebounds. He looks like a huge European lumberjack and is a steamroller on his way to the basket after setting a pick, but has also shown a great touch around the basket. The bearded duo of Love and Pekovic works in great synergy, as Love can space the floor while Pekovic does the dirty work down low. The Timberwolves have a very solid front line and, provided they stay healthy, should be right in the middle of the Western Conference Playoffs.
13. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant is a tremendous player. If his frontcourt-mates were different players, clearly he would find himself and his team higher on this list. Durant can play the three in bigger lineups or slide to the four if the Thunder are trying to play small ball. The man would most likely have several MVPs if it wasn’t for a certain Heat forward, but for now he just has to wait for voters to get tired of voting for the same guy year after year. He has led the league in total points four years running despite not even taking the most shots on his own team. Durant also made a commitment to playing a more all-around game this past season and was successful in doing so, averaging a career-best 4.6 dimes, a whole assist a game more than his previous career-high.
Serge Ibaka also made positive strides this past season after signing his massive contract that will go into effect this season. Ibaka’s most prominent asset is his defense, as he has led the league in blocks and appeared on the All-Defensive First Team in each of the past two years. He was no slouch on offense either this past season, finishing top-5 in shooting percentage at 57.3 percent, a career-high, while raising his scoring average from 9.1 to 13.2 with the help of an extended shooting range. However, he was a big disappointment in the playoffs. It can be debated whether the Thunder chose Ibaka over James Harden, but either way the Thunder paid Ibaka and traded Harden. When Russell Westbrook got injured against the Rockets in the first round, the Thunder needed Ibaka to step up and be that second option to Durant. Rather than step up, Ibaka’s scoring numbers went down in the playoffs. The Rockets put a scare into the Thunder before they ran into a buzzsaw in Memphis and were smacked by the Grizzlies. Any team losing a player the caliber of Westbrook will struggle to some degree, but the Thunder had to be disappointed seeing Ibaka’s performance in the playoffs, especially with Harden averaging 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game against them.
The remaining member of the starting frontcourt group in Oklahoma City is Kendrick Perkins. Perk used to be a valuable piece who could put the ball in the cup when asked to (10.1 points per on 60 percent shooting in 2009-10) but now has turned into a mess with the basketball. His shooting percentage plummeted this past season all the way down to 45.7 percent, just not an acceptable number for an NBA big man. The Thunder continue to play him upwards of 25 minutes a game even though his only true value at this stage is as a Dwight Howard stopper (which actually could come in handy if a rematch with Houston takes place). Scott Brooks should look to play Nick Collison more minutes, as can do a little bit of everything and is an actual threat to pass and score when the ball comes to him. If this list were made at the end of last regular season, the Thunder would be higher. However, Perkins has become a liability on offense and Ibaka was a disappointment in the playoffs so this is where they stay until they can prove otherwise.
12. ATLANTA HAWKS
Many have assumed the Hawks have been due for a downturn with the loss of Joe Johnson a year ago and then Josh Smith this past year. However, Atlanta has made some nice moves and should find themselves right back in their standard spot in the middle of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Al Horford has been the heart of the Atlanta team for years, giving his all night in and night out (more than can be said for Smith) all while putting up 17.4 points per game on 54 percent shooting, along with 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. The guy is a stud, and maybe with Smith gone he will finally get his due.
The Hawks made one of the shrewdest signings of the offseason by picking up Paul Millsap on a two-year deal worth only $19 million. There was a logjam in Utah with four guys for two spots, so Millsap’s role was reduced a little last season, but he still put up 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. However, the two years previous Millsap had even more impressive numbers, posting a combined two-year average of 17.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on 51.4 percent shooting. Millsap and Horford will be terrors on the glass this season and are both high-volume but efficient scorers as well.
At small forward, the Hawks only have one of the best shooters in the history of the game. Kyle Korver is an assassin. The guy shot 53.6 percent from three just a few years ago, and this past season posted a 45.7 percent clip on 5.6 attempts a game, just a ridiculous rate. Another underrated signing the Hawks made this offseason was acquiring Elton Brand. Brand is nowhere near the player he once was, but he will able to provide ample scoring and rebounding in a reserve role to spell either Millsap or Horford. The Hawks will be very tough to guard again this season with the versatility of their frontcourt and are primed to surprise some people this season.
11. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers have had a very solid frontcourt for several years, headlined by Blake Griffin. Griffin often gets a bad rap for not using his athleticism for defense and rebounding to the degree he does looking for the highlight play on offense. Griffin certainly does chase highlights so that reputation is not totally undeserved, but he has been a very productive player who has been on the All-NBA Second Team the past two years. At the same time, Griffin’s scoring and rebounding numbers have gone down each year of his career â€“ 18.0 and 8.3 this past season compared to 22.5 and 12.1 his rookie year â€“ while his commercial appearances have only gone up. The Clippers do have more mouths to feed on the offensive end now so that can excuse some of the drop off, but a player’s first year in the league should not be better than their third.
Ever since Griffin came into the league, DeAndre Jordan has been his right hand man. They have perfected their celebrations and get genuinely excited when the other makes a great play â€“ and even gave the team the nickname Lob City. Unfortunately, catching lobs is about all Jordan can do on the offensive end. He has developed some semblance of a jump hook that he can get off against anyone because of his size and length, and used that to bump his scoring average up to almost nine points a game. Jordan is also a solid defensive player who can block shots and is a force in the key. Jordan is a good player but always seems to leave something to be desired â€“ he is so big and athletic, it just seems he should be able to do more on the court.
Jared Dudley is one of the new pieces to the puzzle this season in La-La land. He is a career 40 percent shooter from three and is a good defender and should be a great glue guy for the Clips this season. He works hard and is a great guy in the locker room who can hopefully mediate the sometimes testy relationship between Griffin and Chris Paul.
The Clippers have high expectations for this coming season and they should with all the talent they have on board, plus Doc Rivers taking over for Vinny Del Negro (should be a slight improvement in that department). This team’s ceiling might depend on Griffin â€“ if he can get back to playing the way he did his rookie season, the Clips could make a run at the championship.
10. DETROIT PISTONS
Having yet to play a game together, it is very difficult to rank where Detroit’s front line should fall here. This trio has all the tools to be a dominant unit by crashing the glass and stonewalling anyone who comes inside, but could also struggle mightily with the lack of floor spacing when all three play together. Both Josh Smith and Greg Monroe are great passers who can find open cutters, posting 4.2 and 3.8 assists per game respectively this past season, so that should help with the potential floor-spacing issues.
Monroe is a guy who still doesn’t get his due â€“ he put up a double-double every night out last year averaging 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a game without much help. Smith had the same line he’s had for the past seven years again last season, posting 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Those two should be able to work well together as both can handle the ball and post up smaller defenders. Andre Drummond is the real wildcard in this equation. There were plenty of question marks about the big man coming out of UConn, but he has shown the potential to be a terror for opposing teams. The guy is simply a freak â€“ standing 7 feet tall and 280 pounds with a wingspan of 7-6 and a vertical of 31.5 inches. He averaged 7.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a game, but per 36 minutes those numbers jumped to 13.8 and 13.2 respectively. He is a force on the defensive end with his huge frame and a great finisher on the offensive end and could play the same role for Detroit that Tyson Chandler does in New York.
The Pistons don’t have much depth in the frontcourt beyond these three, but Smith can move to the four in some situations if they want to go small and spell either Monroe or Drummond. The Pistons are an intriguing team for this upcoming season and it will be interesting to see how this frontcourt meshes â€“ by midseason they could prove to be top five on this list, or flounder and not even deserve a ranking at all.
9. HOUSTON ROCKETS
This is another team that could find itself in another position on this list at midseason. The Rockets made the biggest splash this offseason by signing Dwight Howard. Howard may decide by midseason he wants to give somewhere else a try, but for now he is a Rocket. If Houston is getting the Dwight Howard from last year then this is just a good front line. However, if the Rockets are getting 2010-11 Dwight â€“ the one who averaged almost 23 points a game on almost 60 percent shooting along with 14 boards and 2.4 blocks a game â€“ then this could be the best frontline in basketball.
Dwight can dominate the game with his sheer physical presence, and with the shooters around him and the driving ability of James Harden, this could be a souped-up version of the 2009 Magic that made it all the way to the Finals.
It is unclear whether Omer Asik will start this season along with Howard, or even if he will remain with the team â€“ he has already voiced his displeasure about the signing. If they do play together, the spacing on offense might be tough to maneuver because neither can shoot the ball, but it might be worth it for the defense those two could provide in tandem (never mind the prodigious rebounding numbers on both the offensive and defensive glass).
Chandler Parsons is the remaining piece of this front line. Parsons was a diamond in the rough for GM Daryl Morey in the 2011 Draft, and really emerged last season, averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 48.6 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from range. While the other two big men can bang, Parsons can stretch the floor and also drive to the rack and finish or dish. Parsons is also a very solid defender, who along with Howard and Asik, can hide some of the defensive deficiencies of Harden and Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets also have some young weapons off the bench who should be ready to contribute in Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Greg Smith. All three can do different things that should help Houston win games. The Rockets are another very intriguing team this season that could have some early growing pains (especially if the Howard and Asik pairing does not pan out) but could also have everything click into place and be a great team and a prime contender for a championship.
8. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
If this were a list of the top power forward and center duos, then the Grizz big men would be a lot higher on this list. Tayshaun Prince was a great player in his Pistons heydays but is nearing the end of his career. Quincy Pondexter emerged during last year’s playoffs and might find himself in the starting lineup soon enough, but he is not enough to propel the Grizzlies higher on this list either. Regardless, Memphis’ strength is in the tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The two work seamlessly together and have established a great rapport. Gasol is a phenomenal passer (four assists a game from the center position) working out of the high post, and can also shoot it from out there, last year hitting at 49 percent from 10-15 feet and 47 percent from 16-23 feet on over two attempts a game from both locales. Boiled down, those numbers simply mean Gasol can hit the midrange jumper at an elite level. Randolph spends more of his time on the low block. He certainly doesn’t elevate over anyone, but he has all the moves down low.
Z-Bo had an injury plagued 2011-12 season and didn’t quite recover to his normal self last season, averaging only 15.4 points per game, compared to over 20 per for the three seasons form 2008-09 to 2010-11. Randolph has played 12 years in the league but is only 32 years old so should have some good years left. With a full year to have recovered from the MCL tear in his knee, Randolph should be able to go back to the form that made him an All-Star. These two also form a great defensive duo with Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, finishing second in defensive win shares this past season and Randolph surprisingly coming in at number 10 (obviously aided by being surrounded by a phenomenal defensive unit).
The Grizzlies also have Ed Davis coming off the bench who showed some promise in Toronto but didn’t play much for Memphis down the stretch after being acquired in the Rudy Gay trade. With a full training camp under his belt, he should be able to provide some quality minutes off the bench with his length and athleticism. The Grizzlies’ big men set the tone for the grit and grind mentality in Memphis that makes them one of the toughest, and best, teams in the business.
7. NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks have an interesting combination in the frontcourt this season. They really hit their stride last season when Carmelo Anthony started playing at the 4-spot and they spaced the floor around Tyson Chandler, who was content back-tapping long rebound after long rebound to set up more three-point attempts. Not much needs to be said about Carmelo â€“ everyone knows who he is at this point. He is a volume scorer who will take as many shots as necessary to get his points. Last year he took 22.2 shots a game â€“ a number that Kobe couldn’t even match. That is what the Knicks ask him to do, however, and he did lead the league in scoring. The Celtics exposed a lot of the problems with the Knicks offense in how they defended Carmelo in their first-round series this past year, as it took him an extra 3.5 shots per game to get the same average he posted in the regular season.
The Knicks did what they could under their cap restrictions to improve the team this offseason with the acquisition of Andrea Bargnani. If you thought the Knicks lived and died by the three last year, wait until Bargnani enters the fold. Bargnani had a brutal, injury-riddled year last year â€“ shooting under 40 percent from the floor â€“ but we can give him the benefit of the doubt and blame it on too long a stay in Toronto. Bargnani has shot well from range in years previous and should get more open looks with all the weapons in New York. Danilo Gallinari was a fan-favorite in New York and maybe Bargnani, a similar player, can follow suit and slot into that role.
Bargnani joins a front line anchored by Tyson Chandler, who does all the dirty work for the Knicks. His defensive numbers slipped a little bit last year, but that could also be attributed to playing with no one else who is even close to being considered a plus-defender (Metta World Peace should help in that department this coming season). Chandler is a force coming off the pick-n-roll and has led the league in true shooting percentage (which factors 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws) for the past three years. Granted most of his shots are dunks and put-backs, but he creates those opportunities by rolling to the hoop so hard off the pick-n-roll and has vastly improved his stroke from the free throw line.
The Knicks also bring Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin off the bench. Amar’e has worn down the past couple of years, but in the right situations he can still provide a scoring punch. Martin brings straight energy and emotion off the bench and gave the Knicks a great boost after he was signed midseason. The Knicks hit their hot streak in the middle of last season, but if they hit a similar streak at the end of the season and roll into the playoffs, they could make a run at anyone with the way they can shoot the ball.
6. CHICAGO BULLS
The Bulls frontcourt quartet is anything but flashy. But in a style emblematic of their coach, they work their tails off to get results. It starts with Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of the Bulls. Noah is not the most talented guy, but no one will outwork him. The Florida product was rewarded for his lunch pail attitude with an All-Star appearance last season. He has career averages of 11.8 points and 11.4 rebounds all while playing stout defense â€“ he has been top-10 in defensive rating in the league for the past four years and landed on the first All-Defensive Team this past season.
Luol Deng has been an All-Star the past two seasons and certainly has earned it â€“ he has led the NBA in minutes played in both seasons, playing 39 minutes a contest. That, if nothing else, shows his value in that Tom Thibodeau can’t help but leave him on the floor. Deng is a great defensive player as well â€“ he was on the All-Defensive Second Team in 2011-12 â€“ all while averaging 16.0 points a game over the course his nine-year career. Deng and Noah â€“ along with Thibodeau’s defensive system â€“ have helped make Chicago one of the staunchest defenses in the league.
Carlos Boozer, the third member of the frontcourt, will never be compared with Hakeem Olajuwon, but he has bought into Thibs’ system. Boozer has long been looked upon as overrated with his monstrous contract (which still somehow has another year remaining after this one) but can provide many positive qualities for a basketball team. A team like the Bulls needs someone who can shoot a high volume and shoot a high percentage on those shots â€“ especially when a player like Derrick Rose is injured. Boozer put up 14.4 shots a game this past season and shot almost 48 percent on those attempts. Those aren’t the greatest numbers for a big, but that volume is important when a superstar is out.
With Rose back this season, Boozer will be able to pick his spots more and perhaps score a little less but shoot a higher percentage, as he has in years previous (he has been top-10 in field goal percentage seven times over the course of his 11-year career).
Taj Gibson comes off the bench for the Bulls, but in many games he plays starter minutes. He just signed a huge contract ($33 million over four years) so the Bulls clearly see his value. Gibson is a fantastic defender who can also step out and hit a jumper once in a while on the offensive end. This past season, the Bulls leaned heavily on these four and they came through with flying colors. Deng dealt with a scary illness and was forced to miss Games 6 and 7 of the first-round series against the Nets all while Noah was dealing with a vicious case of plantar fasciitis. Noah fought through the injury, one that he said “feels like you have needles underneath your foot” to lead the Bulls to a series win against the heavily-favored Nets. That type of heart is a huge contributor to the Bulls having one of the best frontcourts in the league.
5. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The new-look Warriors sport a very impressive front line. They made a move that shocked almost everyone by clearing enough cap space to sign and trade for Andre Iguodala. They got Iggy on a very reasonable deal â€“ four years and $48 million â€“ and didn’t have to give up much more than some draft picks and Brandon Rush. Iguodala will be a perfect fit for Golden State. He made the 2012 Olympic team for what he can do on the defensive end and will play much of the same role for the Warriors this season. He will guard the best player on the other team every night and leave the offense to his shooters in the backcourt and the bangers in the frontcourt. He isn’t the best shooter, but he is always moving on offense and can get easy scores on cuts and fast breaks. When he was the featured scorer in Philadelphia, he poured in as many as 19.9 points a game â€“ so that shows he can score the rock â€“ but that won’t be his role in Golden State, and surely (don’t call me Shirley) he’ll trade those extra points in exchange for more wins.
David Lee doesn’t have (nearly) the same defensive prowess as Iguodala â€“ in fact, he is one of the worst defenders in the league. However, he can put the biscuit in the basket. Last year he shot almost 52 percent on his way to 18.1 points and 11 boards a game. The guy can score with either hand and crashes the glass like none other.
This ranking assumes a healthy Andrew Bogut â€“ and Lee, in fact, who tore his hip flexor in the Warriors first playoff game this past season â€“ which all reports are indicating to be the case. Bogut can help cover up some of Lee’s defensive deficiencies so he can just focus on his offense (which he does anyway). The Australian has had injury troubles the past few seasons, but just a few years ago he averaged almost 16 points a game with 10 rebounds on 52 percent shooting to go along with 2.5 blocks. Bogut can be an efficient low post scorer and a great defensive presence â€“ he was top-5 in defensive rating in both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. The Warriors also found a great weapon in Harrison Barnes, who stepped up in Lee’s absence during the playoffs. Barnes showed he could play a big role as a small-ball 4-man, which gives Mark Jackson more options to mix and match this coming season. With all the weapons Golden State has, if Bogut and Lee can stay healthy (along with Steph Curry, of course) this Golden State team can be a true contender in the West.
4. MIAMI HEAT
Ranking Miami on this list is difficult. Any team with LeBron immediately jumps to near the top of the list (LeBron, me and my dog would probably come in at number 14) but his teammates on the front line are no slouches either. LeBron needs no introduction â€“ he is the best player in the world and in his prime. He has led the league in win shares for the past five years and averaged an absurd 26.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game on 56.5 percent shooting this past season. Just look at those numbers again. Whoa. He takes over in the clutch when he has to and makes everyone on his team better. The fact that Udonis Haslem is still a productive player in the league proves that. He is tough as nails but all he can really do at this point is hit an open jumper â€“ which teams give to him wiiiiide open.
Haslem started more games last year but Shane Battier fills the SF/PF position â€“ or whatever you want to call it in Miami’s positionless offense â€“ more often for the Heat (other than in the playoffs where he wore down). Battier can stretch the defense better than Haslem with his three-point stroke, as he shot 43 percent this past year. He also bodied up and guarded a lot of power forwards this past year, allowing LeBron to take less wear and tear and be at the top of his game in the playoffs.
The proverbial third wheel in Miami is Chris Bosh. He consistently faces criticism and may be a little zany but he can load it up. He shot 53 percent on jumpers from 16-23 feet on almost five attempts a game — just ridiculous numbers. Granted most of those are open, but still are not easy shots. He does what Miami asks of him and does not complain, despite the fact that he could do a lot more on the court. He sacrificed money and numbers for winning championships (of which he has two and his team is the favorite to win a third this year), and at the end of the day it is hard to criticize anything about that.
3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs proved how formidable their frontcourt could be in this year’s playoffs. Kawhi Leonard burst onto the scene this season, averaging almost 12 points a game on 49.4 percent shooting while adding six rebounds a contest. In the playoffs, Leonard emerged as a defensive stud â€“ playing LeBron as tough as anyone possibly could â€“ while also improving to 13.5 points on 54.5 percent from the floor and 39 percent from the trey line to go with nine boards a game. As an astute Dime writer recently pointed out, Leonard is the best role player in the league and a great fit alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
Speaking of Timmy, he still gets it done. We are going on year 17 and Duncan is still putting up the same per 36-minute stats as he did when he was 25. Gregg Popovich has done a masterful job managing Duncan’s minutes to keep him fresh for the biggest games. The Big Fundamental has only improved the last few years and has shown no signs of slowing down. He provides great leadership and acts as a big brother to everyone on the team, an underrated aspect of his greatness.
Someone who is benefiting greatly from that mentorship is Tiago Splitter. After years of playing in Brazil and Spain, Splitter came to the NBA as a much-hyped prospect. After an underwhelming first year, Splitter improved in his sophomore campaign and then really made strides last year. He started 58 games, averaging over 10 points a contest plus 6.4 rebounds in only 24 minutes. This offseason he got a huge contract worth $36 million over four years and surely will be asked to do more. Under the tutelage of Duncan, Splitter will continue to improve and make this frontline one that teams would rather avoid.
2. INDIANA PACERS
The Pacers are built as a grind it out, physical, smash mouth team. That identity is forged by their front line, with David West at the forefront. West is an absolute monster who boxes in the offseason to get in shape. Simply put, he is a guy you don’t want to mess with. (Ever see the face he makes after a bad call? Scary stuff.) West is also pretty good at ball, too. The Xavier product averaged 17.1 a game last season on almost 50 percent shooting all while playing very solid defense, posting the ninth-highest mark in terms of defensive win shares last season.
That number is, of course, bolstered by having a 7-2 behemoth to cover most of his mistakes. Speaking of that behemoth, enter Roy Hibbert. Hibbert was given a huge contract before last season (four years at almost $60 million) and was expected to improve on his All-Star campaign in 2011-12. He was still great on the defensive end last regular season, posting the fifth-highest number of defensive win shares and finishing second in the league in blocks. However, Hibbert’s offensive numbers dropped to below 12 points a game and he only averaged 8.3 boards. Maybe the Georgetown product just needed the pressure of the playoffs. He exploded when the games mattered most, displaying post moves no one even knew he had on his way to 17 points a game and 9.9 rebounds, all while maintaining his stellar defense â€“ playing the role of a brick wall in the paint. Hibbert earned his salary in the second season, exposing Miami’s lack of a big man and nearly carrying the Pacers to a spot in the Finals.
Hibbert and West weren’t the only reason, however. Lance Stephenson (who plays a little at the shooting guard spot as well) played an integral role in the Pacers run as a wild card who could go off for eight straight points at any time and swing a game. Stephenson certainly had his ups and downs and struggles on the road, but that should improve as he continues to mature. Indiana’s five-man units with Stephenson were so efficient this past season that it would be hard to even consider starting anyone else â€“ that is unless you have a former All-Star returning from injury.
Danny Granger returns this year after playing only five games last year because of two surgeries on his left knee. Granger, who averaged almost 26 points per game a few years back, could slot back into the starting lineup, but he might be best suited coming off the bench to infuse some much-needed firepower into what was a dreadful second unit last year. With Granger in the fold this year, along with Luis Scola off the bench as well, the Pacers are primed to bring the Heat to the brink again. The Pacers’ game is to bully their opponents, and bully they do by virtue of the size and strength of their front line.
1. BROOKLYN NETS
The Nets starting frontcourt has not even played one game together yet they find themselves at the top of this list. The Nets already had a solid frontcourt in place but made three huge additions this offseason that should make that unit a dominant one this season. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have reputations that speak for themselves, both winning a ring in Boston on top of countless personal accolades. Pierce and Garnett both had to deal with reduced roles in Boston, so deferring to other players in the Nets’ star-studded lineup won’t be a problem. Pierce can be the closer that the Nets are looking for and Garnett the defensive anchor. The two will benefit greatly from less minutes because they don’t have to be the stars in Brooklyn â€“ they both have indicated they are solely in Brooklyn to achieve two things: helping Deron Williams win league MVP and winning the championship.
The fact we’ve gotten this far without mentioning Brook Lopez, he of the fifth-best PER in the entire league last year, speaks volumes about the depth of the Nets frontcourt this season. Lopez is one of the best low post scorers in the league, putting up 19.4 points and almost seven rebounds a game. Lopez has never been the best rebounder, but Garnett will help in that department and Reggie Evans makes his money gobbling up boards. Lopez will benefit a great deal from having Garnett in his ear during every practice and game and that extra voice could instill that killer instinct that he lacks.
The additional acquisition the Nets made this offseason was Andrei Kirilenko. No one knows how Mikhail Prokhorov convinced Kirilenko to come aboard for such a cheap deal, but either way the Nets will enjoy his bench scoring and tenacious defense. The rest of the bigs rotation is solid as well with the aforementioned Evans and Andray Blatche, who has found himself a nice home in Brooklyn. All the depth the Nets have in the frontcourt will ensure that Jason Kidd can manage his aging stars’ minutes and have them in top form for the playoffs.
This frontcourt rotation is full of talent but also a willingness to make each other better (the championship pedigree doesn’t hurt either), and that is why they grade out as the best in the business before even playing a game together.
Which teams do you think have the best frontcourts?
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